After getting married there, couple helps turn family farm by Chillicothe into event venue

Nick Vlahos
Journal Star

CHILLICOTHE — When Ashley Nauman and Joel Gollnitz decided to wed, they figured the perfect place for the ceremony and reception would be her family's farm.

It turns out they weren't the only ones who thought that.

Top of the Hill Farm Event Venue and Gathering Place is to debut Sunday. The farm at 21427 N. Benedict Street a few miles north of Chillicothe is to be available from noon until 5 p.m. for visiting.

Also available are to be vendors that specialize in weddings and other events appropriate for the 3-acre venue site, which includes a refurbished barn, a corn crib and a kitchenette.

It took about nine months to get the barn in good-enough shape to play host to the Nauman-Gollnitz nuptials in 2019. Built in 1953, the 4,500-square-foot barn had been used to house cattle and to store hay.

"That was our only intention, to hold the one family wedding," said the woman now known as Ashley Nauman-Gollnitz, the venue's marketing director.

"The outpouring of interest we received from attendees at our wedding, that's when we decided to look into this to make it a little more permanent," she said. "We just wanted to share our family farm with others that can enjoy it."

The venue name comes from Nauman-Gollnitz's late grandmother Mickie Nauman, who with husband Clinton Nauman reared five children on the 200-acre farm. Nauman-Gollnitz's father, Joe Nauman, was among them. They are operating the venue.

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"Top of the Hill Farm" was the banner under which the Nauman kids showed livestock at 4-H fairs. Mickie Nauman even had a Top of the Hill Farm sign made one year at the Heart of Illinois Fair in Peoria.

That sign has been a constant presence at the farm ever since, according to Nauman-Gollnitz. Also constant is the continued growing of corn and soybeans there.

Regarding the barn, plenty of pressure washing and carpentry preceded the Nauman-Gollnitz wedding. More permanent augmentations came afterward, including exterior concrete work and landscaping.

Including an outdoor courtyard, the venue can accommodate about 250 people. Nauman-Gollnitz said there is plenty of room for social distancing, in keeping with COVID-19 protocols.

Opening a special-events facility during a pandemic in which most gatherings are discouraged might seem unusual. But the timing worked well for Top of the Hill, according to Nauman-Gollnitz.

"We chose to take 2020 to get the venue in shape, to get it cleaned up and ready to host events," she said. "Events don't happen overnight. People are looking at venues now for weddings happening for 2022 and 2023."

For the wedding that took place there in 2019, Nauman-Gollnitz said she and her husband had plenty of help from the Nauman clan. Now, the fruits of their labors no longer will be a family secret.

"We're a very hard-working family with five children who grew up working on the farm," Nauman-Gollnitz said. "They're excited to see their family farm turn into something usable."

Nick in the Morning